Fit for a king
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You know you need a break from your children when you start rolling your eyes when they ask for impertinent things like more fruit, a book or – don’t push it – a cuddle.
And so it came to pass that my children scurried off gratefully to the warm bosom of their grandmother while Mr Muddy and I went in search of sanity, a good sleep and a bit of, um, ‘grown up time’ at Hartwell House.
I stayed here a few years ago for my birthday, taking 9 bedrooms for my friends and spending loads of money on dinner and getting everyone riotously drunk. The whole experience was amazing and I loved my night there, but obviously it wasn’t a typical stay for a typical guest.
So I was interested to go back just with Mr Muddy as a quiet couple needing a break. I’m always being asked by readers about which hotels I’d recommend, but was this one of them?
I think when you’re shown to a room overlooking the lawns and sculptures with a yawningly huge four poster bed and a carved wooden fireplace that looks near-as-dammit priceless, it’s a good start. From my previous visit with my friends, I know that the rooms are all generally large and stately. Hartwell House thrives on its history, not least an association with King Louis XVIII, the exiled King of France who made Hartwell his home for five years between 1808 and 1814.
The bedrooms are comfortable and confident, though I do always find it amusing that quite a few still have cork bathroom floors. It reminds me of the ones my dad put in our house in the Seventies. Hartwell is in the slow process of replacing them, but until then it’s the only piece of ‘modern’ you’re likely to see in the hotel.
International rugby was on telly so I left Mr Muddy licking the screen and I went off to the spa for a massage and soak. The lovely Roman-style pool is the main selling point of the spa area, and I dipped in and out and dozed off and on until my lady came to take me to my massage. It was a bit of a hike to the massage room as it’s not a purpose built building but really, who cares? It was lovvvvvvely.
Then it was back to the room, a shower and change and down to dinner. I have to say I was a bit worried about dinner here because there’s nothing worse than a posh dining area and no-one else in it apart from you and a clutch of bored, overly attentive waiters pushing crumbs around your table. I can’t vouch for other days but on this Saturday the dining room was buzzy, plenty of couples and a few families too.
Our sommelier had the obligatory impossible-to-understand French accent which I took to be an excellent sign, so rather than ask him to repeat himself – again – I let him loose on the wine list. As it turns out, he does know what he’s doing and Mr Muddy and I managed not only a magnificent red (after our two warm up G&TS in the lounge) but dessert wine too, because we’re troopers like that.
With the piano tinkling in the background, we made the most of the food and service, but then who’s not going to love loin of venison flavoured with lapsang souchong tea with creamed Whitchurch potatoes, broccoli, caramelised chicory and rich red wine sauce (apart from, er, vegetarians)? Dinner is not cheap – my main was £32 – so it’s worth knowing that before you start inviting second cousins to a family reunion here, but it was worth the special occasion and, sorry to be lazy here, the convenience.
I’m ashamed to say that we woke up next morning to a full English breakfast – because frankly, who was going to stop us?! – before taking a quick turn around grounds that deserved more time than we could give them, as we were on strict orders to return home to our raggle of children by 11am.
But by this point I was a changed woman, rested and relaxed and ready to offer those cuddles. Any hotel can give you space and you-time, but I think there’s something very grown-up and considered and genteel about Hartwell that, for a romantic weekend away or even a girl’s spa night offers something very alluring.
There’s no fuss, no unnecessary noise, nothing to stop you concentrating on yourself. Yes, it’s slightly old-school – no trainers in the dining room is a bit fusty I think – but I love silver service, bone china crockery for my morning tea, European waiters, plink-plonky pianos and all that stuff we Brits do so well. Add to it a building as grand and graceful as Hartwell House and *contented sigh* it’s a Muddy thumbs up.
Best for: couples, families (children must be over 4), a girly pamper night
Not for: raucous parties – no music is allowed after 12pm.
Insider info: Rooms 6, 12, 15 and 18 are the Royal 4-poster rooms. My moles tell me that Room 10 is the best Royal double, and Room 28 is the best standard room, as it has a door onto the roof terrace.
£££: 47 bedrooms and suites. There’s a late availability offer pre-Christmas that’s a total bargain. Prices are from £160 for a double room, with full English breakfast, use of spa facilities and VAT all inclusive. Ordinarily expect to pay £290 for a standard room with the same facilities.